It is ironic, but also somehow fitting, that the analyst and author Francis Fukuyama, who in the 1990s raved about the “end of history” and the triumph of American-led, Western liberal democracy, now writes – in the financial circles’ The Economist magazine, no less! – about the end of US hegemony.

Fukuyama even admits that the long-term sources of the American weakness and recession are “domestic rather than international”. The scholar tries to convince his readers that America “will remain a great power for years to come, but its influence will depend more on its ability to fix its domestic problems than on its foreign policy”.

After all, the heyday of American hegemony lasted less than 20 years, “from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the financial crisis of 2007-2009”. Arrogance, short-sighted glorification of ‘American exceptionalism, and military interventions in West Asia (in Anglo-American terms, “Middle-East”) took their toll.

The United States has repeatedly overestimated the effectiveness of the military force in bringing about fundamental political change. Wall Street’s predatory “free market” model has also run into difficulties. The decade ended with American troops bogged down in two wars. The international economic crisis also highlighted the inequalities created by the US-led globalisation.

The unipolarity of this period is now over and the world has returned to a more normal state of multipolarity, “with China, Russia, India, Europe and other centres increasing their power relative to America”.

The United States, Fukuyama believes, faces major domestic challenges. American society is deeply polarised and has found it difficult to reach a consensus on virtually anything. This polarisation started with typical American political issues such as taxes and abortion, but has since expanded into a bitter struggle over cultural identity.

Even an external threat, such as the coronavirus, did not make Americans pull together. Rather, Fukuyama argues, the crisis has deepened America’s divisions and social distance. Masks and vaccinations have become political issues rather than public health measures.

Conflicts have spread to all aspects of life, from sports to consumer brands. A civic identity that prided America as a multi-ethnic democracy has been replaced by warring narratives on questions of freedom, history of slavery, and even sexuality.
There still exists a strong elite consensus regarding China, which has emerged as a rival to the United States: both Republicans and Democrats agree that Beijing is a “threat to democratic values” (i.e. to Western-centrism). However, I wonder, along with Fukuyama, whether the US would be really prepared for a military conflict with China or Russia. The troops of Washington’s empire went to Afghanistan, but would they go to Taiwan or Ukraine?

Inner polarisation has already damaged the global influence of Washington. America’s appeal has been greatly diminished: American democratic institutions have not worked well in recent years, so why should any country emulate American political tribalism and dysfunction? Fukuyama recalls that the model country of democracy even failed to achieve a peaceful transfer of power after the elections on 6 January.
Barack Obama never succeeded in making a “Pivot to Asia”. I am not sure Biden will make it, either. It would be wise to concentrate on challenges closer to home rather than engage allies and start intimidating China in its own backyard.

Fukuyama, who inspired the war-loving neoconservatives in the 1990s, sounds more realistic today. He argues that the US is unlikely to return to its former hegemonic position and should not even try to do so. At best, it can only hope to “maintain a world order based on democratic values, together with like-minded countries”. Time will tell whether the United States is even capable of doing this anymore.

Like the British Empire in the past, the United States is becoming a depleted resource. Personally, I suspect that for international capital circles, even a China-led world is not really an abomination. In the changed situation, even the pretence of liberal democracy can be discarded, provided that the privileges of the global capitalist class remain unchanged.

By Markku Siira Via